Assessment report of the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery

Environmental assessment under the EPBC Act
Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2001
ISBN ISBN 0 642 54860 9

Executive summary

Background

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) has provided a document addressing the Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries to seek exemption from the export controls of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (Part 13A) (formerly the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982). The Ecological Assessment - Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery (the submission) was released for public comment on 15 September 2001. The public comment period ended on 15 October 2001 with a total of six submissions received. The submission reports on the assessment of the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery against the Commonwealth's Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries.

The Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery targets spanner crabs (Ranina ranina), the majority of which are exported as live product to East Asia. The jurisdictional area of the fishery encompasses the waters off the Queensland coast, from the New South Wales (NSW) to the Northern Territory border, but is concentrated in coastal waters up to 80m between Yeppoon in south-central Queensland and the Queensland/NSW border. The species is also fished commercially in NSW and operates off the same reproductive stock as the Queensland fishery.

Spanner crabs are taken using dillies, a demersal set apparatus comprising a square or rectangular metal frame, enclosing an area no greater than 1m2, to which a stretched mesh is attached. Up to 15 individual dillies are clipped to a ground-line, connected to a float on the sea surface.

The fishery is divided into two areas, Management Area A and Management Area B, as a result of uncertainty in the limit of exploitable crab resource in the north of the fishery. Each Area is subject to a different set of management arrangements. There are approximately 230 licensed operators in the fishery, with approximately 80 vessels currently active. Part of the fishery is subject to marine park zoning established under the Commonwealth's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 and the Queensland Marine Parks Act 1982.

The fishery is managed under the Fisheries (Spanner Crab) Management Plan 1999, which defines clear objectives, has established performance criteria and provides for regular review of the plan and its elements. The management regime is based around an annually set (and reviewable) Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) and Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system for Managed Area A, a daily catch limit for Managed Area B, a range of input controls, and a catch reporting system with resources for compliance and enforcement.

The fishery independent Long Term Monitoring Program, combined with the collection of fishery dependent data provides capacity for monitoring and assessment of the target species and ecosystem sustainability. The management regime has the capacity to respond to adverse impacts on the environment.

Bycatch in this fishery is very low. The principal bycatch species are crustaceans, including the occasional portunid crab (mainly blue swimmer crab (Portunus pelagicus) and three spot crab (P. sanguinolentus). There are no byproduct species taken in this fishery.

Overall assessment

The material submitted by QDPI for assessment of the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery suggests the fishery is well managed and operates in accordance with the Commonwealth's Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries.

The submission indicates that the management regime is sufficiently precautionary and capable of controlling, monitoring and enforcing the level of take from the fishery, whilst ensuring the stocks are fished sustainably. The management regime ensures that removals of the target species are sustainable and there are mechanisms in place to ensure that stock levels do not fall below a defined reference point.

Levels of bycatch and interaction with threatened species, ecological communities and the broader marine ecosystem, are not considered a major risk for the fishery at current levels. Current bycatch levels are very low and interaction with threatened species and ecological communities is minimal. The combination of gear type, fishing operation and lack of interaction with the marine environment beyond the target species makes risk of impact on the broader ecosystem very low.

There are no major risks associated with this fishery, however this assessment report incorporates a number of recommendations and suggestions aimed at improving the effectiveness of the management arrangements.

The assessment concludes that the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery is managed in an ecologically sustainable manner. As a consequence it is recommended that the export of R. ranina taken in the Queensland fishery should be exempt from the export controls of the EPBC Act (Part 13A) for a period of up to five years.

As the fishery area encompasses Commonwealth as well as State waters, consideration under Part 13 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is required vis-à-vis the impact of the fishery on threatened species, migratory species, cetaceans and listed marine species. The submission indicates that the fishery may interact with loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), listed as an endangered, migratory and marine species under the EPBC Act). As reasonable steps are taken to avoid the killing or injuring of loggerhead turtles, and the level of interaction with the species is low, the fishery is unlikely to have a significant impact on the species and a declaration under s.208A, s.222 and s.265 of the Act would be appropriate. Declaration under s.245 is also recommended as the fishery is unlikely to have a significant impact on cetaceans.

Recommendations

  • Establish arrangements with NSW to establish joint monitoring and assessment of the shared stock of spanner crabs with a view to developing future collaborative management arrangements.
  • Periodically review the compliance and enforcement strategy and activities to ensure emerging compliance risks are identified and addressed. Particular attention should be given to the validation of catch per unit effort (CPUE) data.
  • Continue work to develop a stock assessment model based on sound biological data, and an analysis of the impact of effort creep on the current total allowable commercial catch setting process and management responses.
  • Review the Managed Area A/Managed Area B boundary location to ensure that it is not compounding risks associated with CPUE and individual transferable quota reporting.
  • Develop an appropriate means of monitoring bycatch in the fishery in addition to the Long Term Monitoring Program.
  • Establish a reporting mechanism for protected species interactions, including the development of a protocol for reporting of interactions of protected marine species to Department of the Environment and Heritage as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and the development of a program to educate fishers about protected species. If it is revealed that interactions occur more frequently than previously thought, mitigation measures, including trigger and reference points, should be introduced to reduce interactions.
  • Undertake a formal risk assessment of the ecological impact of the fishery on predator prey relationships before the next assessment to confirm assumptions that the broad ecosystem effects of the fishery are low.